Activist Mommy











{July 14, 2007}   Long haired boys and gender issues

marionetteYesterday my mother-in-law had my son’s hair chopped off without my permission. Or my partial permission. She claimed that she was taking him in for a quick trim and brought him back without his signature curls. She and I have been at war over his hair it was long enough to be at war over. My son, like his father, has beautiful long curls that just beg you to run your fingers through them. It’s the kind of hair that strangers stop me in the grocery store to admire and fawn over. And now it’s gone. The icing on the cake is that this is the first time she has spent any time with my son since her and I last fuoght over something petty weeks ago, and she immediately goes for something she knows would upset me.

There are a few hundred parental violations involved here. Lying to me about what her plans were, using my son as a pawn for her revenge, not seeing what an awesome kid he is, the list could go on. But what really pissed me off was after she left. As we stood in the bathroom looking in the mirror my son beemed with pride and declared that he finally looked like a “real boy”. Whoa. Way to take a kid’s natural desire to please the people he loves and turn it into a classic lesson in boy vs. girl. And here I thought it was his other body parts that made him look like a “real boy”. So what was he before the hair cut? Plastic? A marionette perhaps?

I really hate the idea that at 3 he’s already getting pushed inside a box of what is “acceptable” and what isn’t. I actually got a kick out him being too little to understand the way gender is seen by most. He was a boy that played fast and loose with the rules, and was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t care. So when he wanted bright red sparkly shoes to wear with his monster truck outfit I said sure. When he picked out the purple bag with yellow daisies to carry his toy cars around in I put that one in the basket. When he would dance around the room and call himself a pretty ballerina I would applaud and tell him just how pretty he was. But now the seed has been planted as to what is OK for him to do and wear by other’s standards. I knew this concept would come, but I certainy didn’t want it happening so soon.

I’m sure for some it seems silly. After all, it’s just hair and it will grow back. But to me it’s like a first step in the wrong direction. Today it’s “real boys don’t have long hair”, tomorrow it will be “real boys don’t care for kids” or “real boys don’t do housework”. And it seems like just another example of an overall culture that has pretty messed ideas on what makes one male or female while centering far too much on how a person looks.


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Heather says:

Wow. That is underhanded and low. I’m sorry that you have to go through that. At least he has you to point out that being “a real boy” isn’t defined by any one thing.



varin says:

Wow. Totally unacceptable behavior. Hopefully, you were able to do some damage control?



I laud and applaud your position on allowing gender identication to emerge in your son’s own time. IMO there is a great deal of damage done by enforcing gender identities on young children and by choosing “boy” or “girl” toys for them.

Do not underestimate the kind of manipulative and subversive behaviours that grandparents can employ when it comes to derailing your plans for parenting your children in your own way.

Your mother-in-law in essence, disrespected you and then orchestrated an assault on your son’s hair. It’s of paramount importance that you now make it clear to her that if she ever effects such behaviour again you will no longer trust her and that what that means is that you will deny her unsupervised access to your child.



Danielle says:

My eldest went without a haircut until he was 4 years old, since it is Indian tradition to ritualize the first haircut and we had to wait until his grandfather was able to come. I loved his hair long. I kept it in a braid and wrapped it up and always shored him up against gender related comments regarding his hair. He had to heard the term “real boy” at the barber shop. What was he Pinocchio? You really need to lay down the law with your m.i.l., He is your son, not hers.



matt says:

Hi AM

That’s a mother-in-law from hell you’ve got there. What was your husband/partner’s reaction?

> Today it’s “real boys don’t have long hair”, tomorrow it will be “real boys don’t care for kids”…

I’m a little confused over the above comment though. Why would any child say ‘real boys don’t care for kids’?! Do you mean boys can be aggressive? My boy is 3&1/2 and yes we have to watch him carefully with regards his use of his strength. He shows the typical innate ability that boys have which is to show their strength, their desire to fight and to kill. Yes I know it’s annoying to talk about men and boys and once upon a time they had to hunt etc. etc. However, this is true and it can’t be designed out of boys, only managed.

No doubt your son was repeating those words ‘now I’m a boy’ because that would have been what your mother-in-law said after the haircut, as they looked in the mirror. Let it ride as you don’t want to get bound up about it within yourself. Otherwise your m-in-law will have got under your skin!

Just some thoughts. I hope you don’t mind. 🙂



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activistmommy says:

Matt: What I meant but “tomorrow it will be real boys don’t care for kids” was not literally tomorrow, but more of in the future. It was jsut a way of saying that being told that he can’t have long hair now is just a seed being planted in him. That same “real boys” logic grows into real men don’t care for kids. Care for as in change diapers, give bathes, ect…

And his father’s reaction was to sigh loudly and remind me “You know you can’t trust my mother!”. I tend to give her the benefit of the dought too often. LOL



matt says:

Well, you know of course that he’ll end up deciding what he wants to do with his own appearance once he’s a teenager! As long as sees love all around him and is loved by his parents (and he obviously is) then he will turn out just fine.



Sally says:

Oooo! My face is burning for you! As a former nanny, adoring aunt, and all-around kid lover, I think it is mega important to let the parent be the parent. I would never discipline a child if the parent was also right there and able to do so; I would never secretly talk to a child about vegetarianism … there are just lines that you allow a parent to have, boundaries that you don’t cross.

… and it puts your son in between you and your M-i-L which is not fair to him.



That was disrespectful of your mother-in-law to cut your son’s hair without your permission. Yeah, it’s just hair, but she has set a precedent and will probably violate your parental authority again.



Karen says:

I’ll bet MIL made some comment to him after the haircut….”now you look like a real boy.” Doesn’t sound like something a kid would just come up with on his own.

UGH. I don’t envy your position at all. My MIL don’t get along that well and I won’t trust her with unsupervised visits for different reasons. Sounds like your MIL went to the same MIL school as mine did.



Oh, she’s in trouble big. What was she thinking?



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